Sunday, June 29, 2014

Church of the Holy Innocents under pressure, threat of closure

The Catholic Church of the Holy Innocents is under threat of closure by the New York Archdiocese for several reasons.  First, it is the only Catholic Church in New York City to offer a daily traditional Latin Mass at 6pm with traditional music for that mass.  That is to some extent in violation of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960's, although Pope Benedict was not strict on that edict.  Other current style masses are offered throughout the day, but some parishioners simply prefer or are comforted by the old liturgy.  Now an archdiocesan panel has recommended that the church be closed.

A visiting priest urged the parishioners to be obedient, but also to speak up as traditionalist Catholics.  Within two weeks that priest was reprimanded by the Archdiocese and dismissed from his job at the Mission of the Holy See at the United Nations.

It is no secret that the New York Archdiocese is undergoing  a review of its 368 parishes and will close some over time, due to a shortage of priests and a declining number of parishioners, through a planning process called "Making All Things New", that involves mergers of parishes and elimination of buildings.  The list of those to be closed was supposed to be completely confidential, but it was somehow leaked(business experience tells me that most leaks are done purposefully by those responsible for whatever action is being planned) and the Church of the Holy Innocents was on the closure list.

Somehow this hopefully just tentative conclusion has been reached even though the modestly elegant Church of the Holy Innocents has 300 regular parishioners, attendance at Sunday Mass has tripled since 2009, the church operates at a surplus, has a thriving thrift shop, and self funded a recent $350,000 restoration of an 1870's mural behind the altar.  The historic Gothic structure is located on West 37th street between 7th ave and 6th ave.  It is a beautiful building, inside and out.

Why am I writing about this?  I am not a Catholic and not a practicing churchgoer, although if I didn't live in this suburban Selfish Town the thought has come to mind that attending a church for community purposes and the good works done(soup kitchens, thrift markets, charity) might be a good thing to do at some point.  Who says it's required to go listen to mostly boring, monotonous, and retread sermons to participate in some virtuous church activities.

This uncertain but possibly plausible churchgoing idea is not a Pascal's wager thought.  I am not clairvoyant or superstitious.  It is just based on the fact that I like people, I like talking, and probably that was almost all of what I took away from required churchgoing in my childhood.  Well, that and the eventual realization of the widespread and often ugly racism that many of the southern Virginia churchgoers harbored.  Some were honorable exemplary citizens and open minded people, but they were a definite minority in this Methodist congregation.  In fact, a black family showed up at the beginning of a Sunday service sometime in 1963, sat quietly in the back pew, and all "worshippers" in the church, excluding our family, several other families, a few individuals, plus the two ministers, got up and walked out of the building. 

Anyway in this spontaneous writing style an earlier question was not answered.  Why write about this?  From 1986 to 2004 I walked daily from Penn Station at 7th and 34th to my office in midtown at Park and 47th.  While I varied my walks regularly, West 37th was often the first crosstown street that I chose.  After several years of probably unnecessary thought, I stopped in at the Church of the Holy Innocents.  Even between 7am and 7:45am, my usual pass by times, the Church always had at least 30 or 40 people praying or sitting in pews quietly. I found my first stop restful and serene, a nice break before joining the fray of meetings and phone calls that awaited me.  It was by no a means regular stop as work always called, but once or twice a year at least I would drop in for a few moments of peace.

On any measure, how could this amazing church be closed?  Maybe the archdiocese has a lucrative offer from a high end restaurant, nightclub, tech tycoon, disco, or rave promoter.  Excuse the cynical thought.  


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